Office Hours: The Doctor is In

Steve Volk, September 12, 2016

A Scene In The New York Eye And Ear Infirmary, Second Avenue And Thirteenth Street, During The Hours For The Reception Of Patients. 1875. NY Public Library

A Scene In The New York Eye And Ear Infirmary, Second Avenue And Thirteenth Street, During The Hours For The Reception Of Patients. 1875. NY Public Library

After a faculty/staff workshop last week, I was able to chat for a moment with one participant, new to the college. She remarked that she was surprised that so many of her students had shown up for office hours in the first week of classes. Most, she remarked, were worried that they were already falling behind or that they were not “getting it”. I wasn’t surprised, but I also suggested that the students who came to her office were not necessarily the ones she needed to keep an eye on. Often it is those who don’t show up that one should be concerned about.

My experience, shared by others, is that two different kinds of students most often come to office hours: those who are quite prepared in the class, know the material, and know that office hours will help them to excel in the class or are a way to get to know the faculty member, which they understand is important. The other kind are students who are struggling, but often know the ways that they are struggling. In other words, they can generally form a question as a way to begin a productive conversation.

But the students who don’t come to office hours are often the very ones who could use the most attention: the students who: (a) are so confused by the course material that they can’t formulate a question about it; (b) are embarrassed by having to ask a question, thinking that since they have gotten into a selective college, they should be able to figure it out for themselves; or, (c) worry that they are imposing on the instructor’s time and have had no previous experience asking for help outside the classroom. Continue reading